MEN’S TEAM FINAL: KOREA REPUBLIC RUN CHINA CLOSE
China’s men claimed the nation’s first trophy of the day by defeating Korea Republic 3-1 in a fiercely contested final, in which they were forced to fight from 0-1 down after losing the men’s doubles match before winning their three singles contests.
Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu (KOR) struck first blood when they overturned Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun’s 2-0 advantage to complete an awe-inspiring victory (8-11, 4-11, 12-10, 11-7, 12-10) that set the tone for the rest of a remarkable team contest.
With Team China now relying on Fan Zhendong to get them out of trouble, the world no. 1 did not let them down, defeating Korean counterpart Jang Woojin in straight games (11-8, 11-8, 11-9).
Then for the standout battle of the match and arguably the entire event: the excellent Jeoung had a whole nation dreaming when he came from 0-1 down against Liang to lead 2-1 with a match point to hand, but the Chinese world no. 7 dug deep to rescue the situation and put Team China back in control of the tie after sealing a nail-biting victory (11-9, 8-11, 10-12, 15-13, 11-8).
Fan Zhendong duly finished the job with a straight-games win over Lee Sangsu (11-8, 11-4, 11-8) to bring the curtain down on a truly inspirational battle and a fine advertisement for table tennis.
“This was a very tough match indeed. They made it a huge challenge for us, both for me and the rest of my team, but luckily we made it in the end. For sure, I am really looking forward to coming back here next year. I learnt and analysed lots of things from this whole tournament.” – Fan Zhendong
WOMEN’S TEAM FINAL: CHINA HAVE TOO MUCH FOR JAPAN
The women’s team final pitted the two highest ranked teams in the world against one another, as China and Japan locked horns yet again. Yet again, China had the measure of their opponents, inflicting a ruthless 3-0 victory over their biggest rivals and hosts.
Chen Meng and Liu Shiwen (CHN) ensured that they, unlike their male colleagues before them, started on the right note, defeating Kasumi Ishikawa and Miu Hirano (JPN) in straight games (11-7, 11-9, 12-10).
The contest’s blockbuster viewing came in the form of Mima Ito (JPN) against Sun Yingsha (CHN) as two of the sport’s most talented teenagers put on a mesmerising show that gripped a vociferous capacity crowd at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
With the backing of the home supporters, Ito looked set to hand Japan a lifeline in the match when she led 2-0, but Sun fought back aggressively to take the match to a fifth, deciding game, where she showed nerves of steel to save three match points and see out an incredible comeback victory and crushing blow to Ito and Japan (8-11, 9-11, 11-6, 11-7, 12-10).
“I am still playing back the memory of the match in my head having led 2-0 and I cannot really explain what happened as I am still in the dark of what went wrong. With the scores at 2-2, I realised that my opponent was playing her own style because initially she had problems playing her game. However, when she got back to her style, she started gaining the edge over me.” – Mima Ito
Next in line, Liu Shiwen rarely put a foot wrong in her match against Miu Hirano, winning in straight games (11-3, 11-8, 11-5) to spark scenes of jubilation amid the Team China bench and fans in the stands.
“I am very happy to win this title. Today my two team-mates played really well. They gave me a lot of encouragement. This was a real team effort.” – Liu Shiwen
HOSTS FIGHT HARD, BUT FALL SHORT
For Team Japan, this Team World Cup represented a taste of what could follow when they stage the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in eight months’ time at the very same venue, the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
Upon their showings this week in the capital, the evidence suggests that they will continue to challenge for medals next year on home soil, but bridging the gap with China will remain an extremely stern test.
Nonetheless, Japan dealt well with the pressure of hosting this event, when it had seemed like nerves could get the better of them, not least the men’s team who succumbed to an opening group-stage defeat to Team England (1-3) on Wednesday.
However, they looked a completely different outfit the following day in their emotional quarter-final victory over 3rd seeds Team Germany (3-1), in which Tomokazu Harimoto won personal duels over Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Patrick Franziska, either side of Maharu Yoshimura’s shock win over legend Timo Boll. China proved a step too far, overpowering the hosts 3-0 in Saturday’s semi-final.
Likewise, Japan’s women turned on the style when they defeated Romania 3-0 in their quarter-final before seeing off the significant threat of Korea Republic (3-1) as they were forced to come from behind when Shin Yubin and Jeon Jihee won in the doubles. Japan’s response was strong and spirited, as Mima Ito posted comeback wins over Choi Hyojoo and Shin either side of Miu Hirano’s impressive straight-games success against Jeon.
It should be noted how the Japanese crowd truly embraced the occasion, producing a cauldron of noise inside the arena: an atmosphere that bodes well for Tokyo 2020.
CHASING PACK POSE SERIOUS CHALLENGE
Korea Republic impressed in Japan, as the 4th-seeded men’s team claimed their first Team World Cup silver medal since 2011 in Magdeburg, while the 5th-seeded women took a very creditable bronze.
Chinese Taipei’s men (7th seeds) and women (3rd) also performed admirably in Tokyo to claim bronze medals, bowing out against Korea Republic (0-3) and Japan (1-3) respectively at the semi-final stage.
In their quarter-finals, Lin Yun-Ju outwitted an in-form Liam Pitchford (ENG) as they romped to a 3-0 win over England, while Cheng I-Ching led the women to an extraordinary three-hour and 30-minute marathon victory over Hong Kong China (3-2).
UNITED STATES AND ENGLAND IMPRESS
It was a magnificent event for United States, whose men and women both reached the quarter-finals – the very first time to do so in the same year – after posting decisive group-stage wins over Sweden and Austria respectively. Although China eliminated both teams, it was another tournament to cherish for the Stars and Stripes.
The results built upon the nation’s excellent recent results which saw both men and women seal their place at Tokyo 2020 after winning their North American qualifiers, while Lily Zhang reached the semi-finals of October’s Women’s World Cup.
For England, to repeat the glorious achievement of bronze in London was always going to be a tall order in Tokyo, yet they were able to take away more fond memories from this event too.
Just like in 2018, Liam Pitchford got the better of Tomokazu Harimoto as England humbled the hosts on the opening day (3-1) before eliminating Austria (3-0) to book their place in the final eight.
NEXT UP: AUSTRIA… AND CHINA!
Next week will see many international stars battling it out at the ITTF World Tour Platinum Austrian Open in Linz (12th – 17th November) – the last chance for players to gain highly coveted points as they bid to reach the World Tour Grand Finals in Zhengzhou, China (12th – 15th December). Four spots remain in each of the men’s and women’s singles events.
Between those two events, the Men’s World Cup will take place in Chengdu, China (29th November – 1st December), where a star-studded cast awaits, including World champion Ma Long (CHN), Asian Cup champion Fan Zhendong (CHN), Europe Cup champion Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER), Pan American Cup champion Hugo Calderano (BRA), Africa Cup champion Omar Assar (EGY) and Oceania Cup champion Heming Hu (AUS), as well as evergreen legends Timo Boll (GER) and Vladimir Samsonov (BLR) alongside ever-growing talents Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) and Lin Yun-Ju (TPE).